The Waking Edge - 1989
Interference - Wlodek Mier-Jedzrejowicz
(page 5/10)


Interference

Wlodek Mier-Jedzrejowicz


Spitzbergen,

Dear David,

Well, things are no better. When I wrote last week we seemed to have sorted out the source of our problems, but now we're not so sure. As suggested, we asked the Russians to get all their trawlers to turn off their radars for five minutes and indeed the reception improved; but it did not go back to normal. Naturally we assumed that one of their special 'trawlers' had left its equipment on. With some trepidation I suggested this to Sergei - like me he had been assigned to help look for the problem when the interference began. He wants to get back to programming the computers as much as I do, and he pointed out that the only ships in the area of the remaining interference were Norwegian.

Too true the Norwegian ships came into the new port a couple of days later, and our ionospheric radar was completely swamped. It was as if the ships were putting a thick screen above the clouds of hundreds of miles around. We wouldn't have been able to see the ionospheric F layer if the electrons had been painted green! Naturally enough three of us left the site and went down to the harbour. Haakon, who had been in the Swedish Navy before he joined the team here, asked the captain of one ship if they had been issued with any new equipment that could affect their radar transmissions. The captain told us to talk to his engineer, who happened to be inspecting the radar. We went up and asked if he know of anything that might be affecting our work - most of the Scandinavians know it is a scientific project with collaboration from the Russians and are glad to help, so we were taken aback at his reply - 'If there's anything wrong it's your own bloody fault!' Haakon quite reasonably asked how it could be our fault if no one at the project knew anything about the interference except that it was there. The engineer asked equally reasonably how we could say we knew nothing of the new interference suppression equipment sent to his home port from our Norwegian headquarters.

Let's say it took more than sweet reason to find that every ship in the fishing fleet had been fitted with a new 'suppressor' supposedly sent out from the project offices in Norway! It did not help when we explained that the project has no offices in Norway and is being run from London and Petrograd. For some reason the sailors are keen on international cooperation but object to any project on Norwegian territory being controlled from either place; and they insist on still referring to Petrograd as Leningrad - this almost started a fight between one of them and Sergei.

The 'suppressors' had been accompanied by instructions, (apparently printed in Stockholm) on their use with the ship's radar, and each one came with a document to be shown to us in case we tried to remove it! Sergei read this; it said we were under no circumstances to take out the so-called suppressors as one of their purposes was to prevent the harmful effects that interference between our radar and ship's radar might have on the crew. Clearly the engineers believed this and refused to allow us to take away their suppressors. Fortunately one ship had two radar systems and an engineer who had been too drunk to fit two suppressors, so we 'borrowed' his second one, explaining that one 'suppressor' was all he needed.

We did not mention that the other 'suppressor' had been fitted wrongly. Actually, the one effect of these things seems to be to cause interference to our own ionospheric research. The things are remarkable - they can be held in one hand and just clamp onto the power cable supplying the ship's radar. The ship's engineers say they take less than a watt from the power cable - yet they seem to transmit a pulse sequence that sets up intense waves at the very bottom of the ionosphere. One or two would probably have been quite enough to swamp the signals our radar tries to generate at higher altitudes so it would not matter if most had been fitted wrongly or just thrown overboard. When we got back here Haakon went to report to the chief scientist, I took the suppressor to my office, while Sergei took away the document and said he'd get back to his programming. I still think it was a serious mistake to insist that all the programming on this new project should be done in the ADA language - the Russians are far better at it than we are, and Sergei seems to be the best of the lot. Me, I'm just glad that machine language is still used some of the time.

While I've still got the unit with me, I might as well describe it for you. It's just a thick black tube that hinges open so that it looks like two half-cylinder's which can be closed shut around a power cable. According to Sergei the installation document accompanying it said that the unit has an induction coil to pick up power from the cable, and a set of smaller induction coils to detect high frequency fluctuations on the power cable. It goes on to suggest that some of these fluctuations are generated on board the ship and must be suppressed to prevent interference with our 'delicate' research equipment at Spitzbergen. Just to convince the sailors it then suggests that it also protects them from side lobes from our ionospheric radar. The smaller coils are then supposed to generate signals of the opposite phase to cancel out the effects of all this interference. That may sound sensible to someone running the radar on a fishing vessel, but I know that our UHF equipment is built so that the side lobes cannot possibly get out over the sea. For a start there are mechanical constraints which automatically cut off the power if the radar points too low down, and anyway the equipment is in a valley so the side lobes are stopped by the local hills.

The little fat cylinder definitely does something quite different. It might pick up power off the cable as described, but from what we have seen it then does the same as a couple of acres of transmitter did in Norway eight years ago! The trouble is, those took about a megawatt to generate waves in the lower ionosphere, whereas this little guy takes just a watt. It must be able to transmit a signal which then uses power that is already up there to generate waves. I've never read of any such equipment - anyone who can build this must know more about the ionosphere than we do. But who would that be? Our equipment here in Svalbard is supposed to be the best in the world - even the Russians wanted to be in on it, so I don't believe they know any more.

Neither does this thing stop us causing interference on the ships' radars. Our equipment works in quite a different frequency range, and it points up at the ionosphere, not sideways over the sea. No, it interferes with our radar. To be more exact, it probably blocks our radar.

Now, that's a thought - if the lower ionosphere does not block our radar signal then most of it goes straight out through the ionosphere and away from the Earth. I remember that the commissioning tests on similar equipment built fifteen years ago included bouncing the signals off the Moon, and that was done with no trouble. Might it be that our signals are interfering with someone's satellites somewhere? If so, then presumably the Pentagon or the New Kremlin could have dreamt up this scheme to block our signals - but why go to this trouble? They could just have used political pressure to stop us. After all, a bunch of Russian Euro MPs very nearly did that anyway. 8esides, I still don't believe the military have the scientific knowledge needed to build this gadget.

Who else might we be interfering with that could have the ability to build something like this? Radar signals have been travelling out from Earth since World War 2. 8ut then, our own spacecraft have only recently got as far as the edges of the Solar System, and do not work at such frequencies. We could hardly be interfering with UFOs, could we?

Just a moment. Not UFOs maybe, but from World War 2 to now is fifty years, so there has been time for the signals to have reached twenty-five light years out, and for anyone out there to have got annoyed with the interference. I've just been reading some interesting articles in the latest Journal of Near-Astronomy Studies. One analyses Space Telescope results and suggests that few if any neighbouring stars have terrestrial planets, but most have asteroid belts. Another suggests that even the latest SETI results are meaningless as they have concentrated on looking for inhabited planets, whereas they should be looking for space ships travelling between asteroid belts. Now, any space ships travelling around like that would certainly need good communications and would object to interference from us. Could one of them be taking some time off to visit Earth and try to stop us interfering with their communications? According to Sergei the documents with these gadgets said that they were designed to stop interference with ships - they didn't actually say what sort of ships.

I've made myself quite nervous now. There's a third article in JoNAS by Brin and Clarke who argue that any space-faring species must have developed a Prime Law of non-interference, or they'd have got wiped out by some other species. Does this mean that no other species would interfere with us? Or does it mean that we've broken the Prime Law by interfering with other folks' communications and that we're being warned off?

Look, I think I'd better send this off to you right now by E-mail, then delete it before anyone else here reads it. I'll keep a coded copy in my pocket computer only. Then I'd better go and ask Sergei if he has re-read those 'documents' from Stockholm and ask exactly what they say. I really should brush up my Cyrillic.

I think I'll be writing again soon,

Chris.